Read an Excerpt
What We Should Do
Canadians ought to know by now what does not work in lowering greenhouse gas emissions. We have witnessed two decades of information and subsidy policies from our leaders — policies that continue to inspire the Harper government. The numbers do not lie: Canada’s record of greenhouse gas emissions is appalling, and the information and subsidy policies of yesterday and today will not materially change that record. Worse, as governments develop increasingly expensive policy initiatives, such as the Harper government’s “eco” policies throwing billions of dollars into all kinds of programs, the cost of failure grows in wasted money and time. In the scathing words of Johanne Gélinas, Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development at the time, describing the history of Canada’s climate policies, “On the whole, the government’s response to climate change is not a good story….Our audits revealed inadequate leadership, planning and performance.” Gélinas further noted that to address climate change effectively, a “massive scale-up in efforts is needed” by the federal government.
A massive scale-up is indeed what Canada needs to reduce GHG emissions, but not just any collection of policies, however massive, will suffice. Politicians, when they think of doing something “massive,” instinctively think of spending more taxpayers’ dollars. This instinct leads to the politically attractive option of crisscrossing the country announcing funding for this or that special project, as Canadians observed when the Conservatives rolled out their “eco” projects at a series of photo-opportunity announcements by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with ministers playing their assigned roles in the background like bobblehead dolls.
Photo ops and eye-popping financial commitments seem irresistible to politicians, even though most of the announcements miss the target of what must be done. There is no silver bullet to reduce GHGs, but one cardinal principle stands out: The only way Canada can lower emissions appreciably over the coming decades — and this will be a decades-long challenge — is to design and implement either charges on emissions or regulations on emissions or technologies, or a mixture of both. We need economic tools and/or regulations to get the job done. There is no effective alternative. Until Canadians and their governments understand this truth, we will continue to squander money, waste time, pursue variations of failed policies, and make scant progress. We might even continue to go backwards. We need, in other words, to stop digging in the same hole.
Canadians want answers, and if those on offer for so many years cannot suffice, which ones will? This chapter and the next one aim to provide a credible set of answers, illustrating the kind of policies governments can adopt that will lead to success. We will apply the CIMS model to our own policies to show why they will work much better over time than the Liberal and Conservative plans examined earlier.
Bear in mind two points in all that follows, and in everything you hear in public discussion of GHG emissions. First, successful policies will require decades to produce substantial reductions in GHG emissions. But we need to start implementing such policies as soon as possible, because the more time we fritter away pursuing failed policies, the greater the subsequent challenge of reducing GHG emissions. Second, while the specific design of GHG policies obviously matters to individuals, regions, and industries, the bedrock idea of any approach must be that unfettered, cost-free dumping of GHG emissions into the atmosphere will no longer be permitted. The atmosphere can no longer be considered a carbon dump.
From the Hardcover edition.